This week in the Roman Catholic Church, we celebrate the Epiphany. The word Epiphany generally means a divine revelation. In the Catholic celebration, we celebrate the revelation of Jesus to the Gentiles as the Magi from the east travel far from the guidance of a star to adore the newborn King of the Jews. Matthew’s gospel is the only gospel that recounts this story and he gives us some curious details to which we should pay attention.
There are two groups that are juxtaposed in the story of the Magi: Herod and the Jewish leaders of Jerusalem and the Magi. Curiously, even though the Jewish leaders claimed to be waiting for the Messiah of God, it took foreigners asking where this newborn king was for them to realize that the event had happened. The star was available for all to see, but only the Magi were able to ascertain its meaning, not those who should have been waiting upon God’s promise.
Why could Herod and the Jewish leaders not understand the meaning of the star at first? The answer lies in their reaction to the coming of the Magi to Jerusalem asking about Jesus. When King Herod heard this, he was greatly troubled, and all of Jerusalem with him (Matt 2:3). The whole city was fearful and they sent the Magi to figure out the mystery for them. Should they not have been overjoyed? God had been preparing them for centuries for His coming, and yet they do not pursue this new sign. Compare this reaction to that of the Magi or even the shepherds in the previous chapter of Mattew. They are filled with wonder and hasten to see the child. When they find Him, they are filled with joy. Yet, Herod turns murderous and the rest of Jerusalem will complete the homicidal job that Herod fails at 33 years later.
In this story, we have the template through which we should gauge our reactions to the coming of Jesus in our life. First: Do we recognize him? Are we constantly looking for Him and walking with Him? Or does it take someone else to show us that He has been there in front of us the whole time.
Second (and most important): What is our reaction when we see God? The first reaction will always be fear (Fear of the Lord is the beginning of all Wisdom), but what does that fear lead us to? Is it in wonder like the Magi and Shepherds which drive us to seek Him out? Or does our fear become ‘murderous’ because we view God as a threat to our current lifestyle. Not literally murderous, but ‘murderous’ in the way that we separate our heart and desires from God and exclude him from our lives. Our emotional reactions will tell us the state of our soul if only we listen.
The good news is, that regardless of our reaction, we can offer it to God to sanctify it, and He will, even if it takes time or is painful. In the Christmas season, God has come to be with us so that we can no longer be lost in our fearful, sinful selves. Rather we can be changed to be like Him and remain with Him in joy. However, it is up to us to choose: will we be like Herod and see Jesus as a threat or will we be like the Magi and pursue Him in wonder despite the arduous journey? Herod lived by the sword and so died by the sword. Yet the Magi gave of themselves and priceless gifts to the baby Jesus and thus received more than they could have imagined.